Curating The Week: Sound Meditation, Steve Reich’s “Come Out”, Polyrhythmic Electronic Music

 

FullSizeRender-35

An article about sound meditation.

“There are sound meditation practitioners who are innovating, using synthesizers to help create a sound bath.”

An article about Steve Reich’s “Come Out.”

“Made in an era of mind-altering music and electronic effects, Come Out stands as psychedelic in its purest sense, finding something hallucinatory in the most basic of instruments. From these simple means an entire bewildering world of sound emerge, and the connotations of this transformation are vast.”

An article on Florian Meyer and polyrhythmic electronic music.

“After decades of 4/4 dominance (not least in the realms of house and techno) there seems to be an upsurge of new music seeking to break out of the rigid rhythmical structures that much of popular Western music is built on.”

And this video on Euclidean Rhythms. (At 3:25: “Using 7 and 12 along with an offset, results in a popular West African bell pattern used by the Ashanti in Ghana.”)

Space Is The Place: Missy Elliot’s “I’m Better”

Haruki Murakami On Writing And Rhythm

418g6fzw8xl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

“No one ever taught me how to write, and I’ve never made a study of writing techniques. So how did I learn to write? From listening to music. And what’s the most important thing in writing? It’s rhythm. No one’s going to read what you write unless it’s got rhythm. It has to have an inner rhythmic feel that propels the reader forward. You know how painful it can be to read a mechanical instruction manual. Pamphlets like that are classic examples of writing without rhythm.”

“The rhythm comes from the combination of words, the combination of the sentences and paragraphs, the pairings of hard and soft, light and heavy, balance and imbalance, the punctuation, the combination of different tones. ‘Polyrhythm’ might be the right word for it, as in music. You need a good ear to do it.”

-Haruki Murakami, Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa, pp. 98-99.

Discovery Chains: From Murcof To Murch

fullsizerender-60

This post is about how one thing can lead to another. In other words, it’s about process.

I checked my email and opened a newsletter from the online music retailer, bleep.com.

Scrolling through Bleep’s recommendations I found a number that seemed promising, and began downloading them on Spotify.

One release that stood out was a new recording by Murcof called Statea. Murcof (Fernando Corona) is a Mexican musician who makes atmospheric and minimalist electronica. On Statea he teams up with the French pianist Vanessa Wagner to create renditions of piano pieces by Erik Satie, John Cage, Aphex Twin, John Adams, Philip Glass, Arvo Part, and others. It’s a beautiful, hybrid recording. Here is a video overview of the Murcof and Wagner collaboration:

A side note: yes, Murcof’s processing is sonically interesting, adding something significant to the originals. For example, listen around 6:43 to his processing on John Cage’s “In a Landscape:

As I began listening to Statea, I searched online for interviews with Corona and Wagner. My search brought me to headphonecommute.com, a quality source of information about electronic music.

At headphonecommute I noticed an interview with another musician, Yann Novak. (Already I had forgotten that I had been searching for information on Murcof!) Novak’s work explores “notions of presence, stillness and mindfulness through the construction of immersive spaces.” I had never heard of Novak but read the interview anyway, learning about the musician’s thoughtful and thorough composing process. (I particularly like his technique of putting away music for two months and then returning to it.)

While reading the Novak interview I zoomed in on the photo of his studio to take a look at his bookshelf. I noticed a book with the title Notes toward a Conditional Art. It sounded familiar but I couldn’t remember its author.

Ah right, it’s a classic by the artist Robert Irwin. Here is Irwin defining art-making as inquiry: “More correctly, by our commitment to curiosity and wonder we willingly take up a posture of pure inquiry” (222). (I’m re-reading the book now.)

Then I remembered having read the wonderful book about Irwin by Lawrence Weschler, Seeing Is Forgetting The Name of The Thing One Sees.

I looked up Weschler’s book on Amazon.com in the hopes of finding something new by him.

Bingo! That’s how, as one thing can lead to another, I came upon Weschler’s forthcoming Waves Passing In The Night, a profile of Walter Murch, a film sound editor turned amateur astrophysicist.

This blog post, then, is about process, but also about sharing the links that make up a discovery chain.

Check out Murcof, Wagner, Irwin, Cage’s “In A Landscape”, headphonecommute.com, Yann Novak, Lawrence Weschler, and Walter Murch.

John Cage And Improvisation

fullsizerender-60

Art is sort of an experimental station in which one tries out living.
-John Cage

The American experimental composer John Cage once said that he didn’t believe in improvising as a composing technique. The reason is that when we improvise we only play what we already know.

But that has not been my experience. When I improvise—not all that skillfully, usually lost and barely hanging on, but in the moment, connecting my listening with the sounds I’m making—I often encounter novel sound combinations. Contra to Cage, I don’t have the feeling of playing what I already know; in fact, when I listen back to some of these improvisations I find them pleasurably unknown to me—I have no idea about the basis upon which I made decisions in the moment to make the sounds. For me the discovery process inside improvising seems to involve going out on a performance limb and then free-falling. Thinking through it comes later.

So when Cage says he doesn’t believe in improvising, I wonder: Could Cage improvise? Could he elicit sound combinations he found pleasing from instruments in real time, without a definite goal and without recourse to what he already knew? The sound and flow of some of his early pieces such as the beautiful In A Landscape or the gamelan-esque Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, suggest the composer had some interest in performance before theoretical concerns became paramount. This brings me to another thought: Did Cage perhaps turn his back on improvisation because it didn’t have a place within his rigorously conceptualized system of using chance procedures (such as the I-Ching or rolling dice) as a system by which to organize music? What I find odd is that if Cage believed that “art is sort of an experimental station in which one tries out living”, why wouldn’t he avail himself of improvising, that ultimate living strategy available to us all? Was improvising somehow un-composerly, simply too accessible, too universal, too human?